The Magic of Charles and Ray Eames

It’s hard not to be blown away by the Eames – their huge influence on midcentury design, their partnership and of course, their chairs!

I’ve always had a bit of thing for chairs, midcentury ones and especially the Eames chairs, so the opportunity to see them – in person – at the recent Eames exhibition at London’s Barbican was too good to miss.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed, by the exhibition or the chairs.  It was a fascinating insight into the astonishing world of Charles and Ray Eames.  What an incredibly creative and influential partnership they were – true icons of midcentury design.

I loved the chairs: they were beautiful, stylish and it was wonderful to see different versions of the chairs, from early prototypes through to those two design classics, the Eames rocker and the chaise.

Yet, what struck me most about the chairs, was what a relatively small part they played in the wider Eames’ world. They seemed almost another step on the Eames’ learning curve.  Beautifully designed and made though they are, it seemed that they were almost by-products of the Eames’ experiments into materials technology and manufacturing processes.

This isn’t criticism, it’s more amazement that as a partnership, Charles and Ray Eames spent their whole lives learning, creating and then using their expertise in so many different directions. It’s this ability to push creative boundaries that sets them apart from pretty much anyone else during the 20th century.

It’s the attention to detail, the use of materials and the insistence that the design was good from a functional perspective, as it was from the aesthetic which runs through all of Eames’ work.

The quality of the design is what sets Eames’ apart and what makes their work so admirable.  It’s also what makes their designs so recognisable and so often used as a cultural reference point.

Coincidentally, on my way home from the Barbican, I had a perfect example of just how much Eames design has become part of our design landscape.  I popped into my local M&S store and visited their recently refurbished coffee shop – with their newly installed Eames inspired moulded seats in different colours.

Stylish, elegant and very practical, the M&S chairs were perfect reflection of the Eames chairs that I’d seen in that exhibition just a few hours earlier.  I did wonder how many of the M&S coffee shop visitors had even noticed the new chairs. But then, why should they – the whole point of good design is that it works, perfectly.

And that’s exactly what Charles and Ray Eames knew and why their designs are as relevant today as they’ve ever been.

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